Magic to mix youth, veterans In Year 3 of rebuild
Oct. 21, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Since their arrival, Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan and coach Jacque Vaughn have avoided making too many predictions about their team.
Instead, what they have preached is a deliberate approach in trying to secure the players they wanted, and in building chemistry on the floor with the rosters assembled.
But as they enter the third season of what Hennigan also often calls a "fluid process," both are well aware that after back-to-back, sub-25-win seasons, Year 3 is one that needs to show improvement.
"I hope so, yeah," Hennigan said when asked whether this season's roster is the best he's constructed in Orlando. "We feel good about the team, and we like the direction we're headed in. And we certainly have the guys on the team for a reason, because we feel like all of them do a little something different. When you combine all of that I think we have the makings to be a pretty good team."
With a youth-led core that included rookie of the year runner-up Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and big man Nik, Vucevic, the Magic won three out of their first five games last season before quickly sputtering to just 23 victories and punching their second consecutive ticket to the draft lottery.
They just missed on a coveted top three draft spot, and went with athletic forward Aaron Gordon at fourth overall. Through draft night trades, they also added two more young pieces in point guard Elfrid Payton (10th overall pick) and another guard in second rounder Devyn Marble.
That's where the youth movement stopped.
Holding to his desire not to have a team that skewed too young or too old, Hennigan balanced his roster by adding five veterans, led by the signing of free agents Channing Frye and Ben Gordon. Combined with the rookies, that adds up to eight new faces, but is a versatile mix that Vaughn said he's looking forward to working with.
"We'll be able to defensively dictate some things, and hopefully that will spur our ability to run and get out offensively," Vaughn said. "We'll be a team that's dedicated on the defensive end of the floor."
Here are some things to watch for with the Magic this season:
NEW POINT GUARD: The addition of a pass-first point guard in Payton should free up Oladipo to play his natural position of shooting guard. Frye's ability to shoot from the outside will also aid in opening up the paint for Vucevic, who has worked on his inside game this summer.
CONTRACT TALK: Both Vucevic and Harris are eligible for post-rookie scale contract extensions. If they don't sign new deals by Oct. 31, they will become restricted free agents in the summer. Both fourth-year players have had big roles the past two seasons, and have desires to stay put. "Obviously I want to be here," Harris said. "But I don't really get too involved in it. I don't want to use that as something to lose my focus. I'm about my team, and about winning games this year and helping my team win games."
VETERAN INFLUENCE: While there are certainly things to work on and off the floor, for veterans like Frye the focus will clearly be to see improvement on the court quickly. "We will surprise people," Frye said. "I think we're gonna win games we're not supposed to win and we're gonna lose games we're not supposed to lose. So I think we're gonna compete every night."
CHALLENGING SCHEDULE: The Magic play 17 of their first 25 games on the road and have a six-game road trip at the end of November. They don't play three consecutive home games until late December.
NEW ERA: The Magic's old regime is now officially gone after team waived Jameer Nelson in the offseason. Nelson had been the last remaining player who was on to the Magic's 2009 NBA Finals team.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower